Abbott Increases Sustainable Packaging, Decreases Carbon Emissions

abbott, abbott laboratories, pharmaceutical industry, corporate social responsibility, waste diversion, water scarcity, water stewardship, corporate philanthropy
Abbott's Ultra Rice in India

This week Abbott Laboratories released its most recent corporate social responsibility (CSR) report. The pharmaceutical industry giant employs over 90,000 people in 130 countries and has sales of over $30 billion annually. It also appears those 90,000 employees all had a say and contributed to what the company describes as its Global Citizenship Report. The long report is full of details, from the latest developments on the research and development front to its charitable and community activities across the world.

Abbott’s focus on its corporate responsibility agenda lies in four major areas: innovation, access to medical care, supporting consumers and environmental protection. Pharmaceuticals and the environment do not intuitively appear to pair comfortably in the same sentence, but Abbott is tackling a bevy of challenges from water scarcity to sustainable packaging.

The following are some of the company’s accomplishments:

Carbon emissions: A company the size of Abbott sports a huge carbon footprint, from its manufacturing facilities to the daily driving its sales staff must do when visiting doctors and hospitals to pitch products. From retrofits that improved energy efficiency to greening its fleet, the company reduced its CO2 emissions by 17.5 percent from 2005 levels, reaching that goal four years ahead of schedule.

Water stewardship: Based on 2005 levels, Abbott has cut its total water intake by over 50 percent last year, well ahead of its 2015 goals. The installation of water meters at overseas plants, organizing of local water conservation programs in various communities and revamping how its manufacturing equipment is cleaned all contributed to the sharp drop in water consumption. The company also has identified 18 facilities that could be affected by water risk by 2025.

Waste diversion: “Focused resource management,” according to Abbott, kept the company a lean recycling and waste management machine. Again, based on 2005 levels, the company hit that 50 percent waste reduction goal four years early last year. Abbott is on target to achieve five zero-waste manufacturing facilities by 2015.

Philanthropy and community involvement: Abbott’s greatest contribution is its involvement with a variety of local efforts across the world. The company’s overall program has three pillars: health care access, science education and community vitality. The projects that Abbott funds pair nicely with the company’s overall core competence, and a generous $730 million were distributed by Abbott and its eponymous non-profit foundation. One initiative focused on hunger is the company’s Ultra Rice program (pictured above left), a partnership with the NGO PATH that is developing a micronutrient delivery system that packs vitamins and minerals into rice-shaped grains.

Innovation: Like just about every company, Abbott touts its culture of innovation. If you were to believe every company out there pitching its innovation, one would think no one had ever innovated until six months ago. Abbott is no different, reminding us that $4.1 billion was spent on research and development during 2011. But what Abbott is doing is leveraging its employees work on the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) to find new treatments for the world’s most neglected illnesses, including sleeping sickness and Chagas disease.

Overall Abbott’s report is full of details – many of which are somewhat self-congratulatory. And while the company has achieved some impressive environmental goals, the details about how they got there are thinner than we’d like to see. Most companies that hit targets four years early would include more examples of how they achieved them in a short amount of time. While the long story about how Abbott is “doing good” is overall admirable, this is the case where less would actually communicate more.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Abbott Laboratories.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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